Arab schools strike in solidarity with Christian schools protesting lack of funds

Archbishop George Bacouni: We want our rights, we want equality and we want what we deserve.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
Israeli-Arabs schools went on strike on Monday, joining with Christian- Arab schools that have been striking since September 1 in protest at education budget cuts for the Arab sector.
Jafar Farah, the director of Haifa’s Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that around 90 percent of Arab schools went on strike in solidarity with Christian schools on Monday.
Farah claimed that the Education Ministry put pressure on mixed schools to open, but said that even Jewish-Arab schools resisted these efforts.
Christian schools account for a third of students in the overall Arab community, he said, adding that half of the pupils in Christian schools are Muslim.
He said that this solidarity from communities within Arab society demonstrates its overall strength.
“This is also a civil struggle that shows that education is becoming a high priority for the community,” Farah continued.
While the government likes to talk about how it protects the Christian community, this episode shows that “it is not doing so,” he argued.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) said on Monday that “20% of students in the country are sitting at home today instead of going to school because the Education Ministry closes its eyes in the face of demands from Arab schools in Israel.”
He added that it is “an emergency situation.”
“At this time, when the State of Israel seeks economic growth, it is fatally harming the schools from where most of the Arab academics come from,” he said. “This is discrimination and a total lack of equality on the part of the Education Ministry, ignoring the needs of Arab schools and the demands of parents.”
In response to the strike in the Arab sector, the Education Ministry insisted again that there had been no cuts to the Christian schools network in the current academic year or the year before it, and that “they are funded in an equal manner to other recognized but unofficial institutions in the State of Israel.”
The ministry said it was in a discussion with representatives of the Christian schools and that its proposals were “not coercive.”
The central administration of the 47 Christian schools in Israel pointed out, however, that the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) recognized but unofficial school networks Maayan Hinuch Torani and Hinuch Atzmai – of Shas and Agudat Yisrael respectively – receive 100% of the funding received by fully state-run schools.
Officials from the Christian schools claim that they are receiving in effect just 29% funding at present, which they say has led to a NIS 200 million shortfall for the new academic year.
According to Father Abdul Massih Fahim, director-general of the Christian schools network, the ministry’s claim that it is still providing the requisite 75% funding is technically correct, but only because the ministry has consistently reduced the standard number of allocated teaching hours in the sector from 1.1 hours per student in the 2003-04 school year to 0.66 hours per student for the current year.
Fahim said that the dialogue between the Christian schools and the Education Ministry had ceased in March of this year, and that the proposals made were to turn the schools’ status from recognized but unofficial to fully state run.
“This would mean the confiscation of the schools from the churches [that run them] physically and in terms of the educational content,” he said.
The other proposed solution was to categorize the Christian schools as “special schools,” in order to enable them to ask that parents pay higher fees of up to NIS 7,000 for each child per year, something that Fahim said was not reasonable.
More than 3,500 parents, teachers and schoolchildren from the Christian- Arab sector protested outside of the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday morning against the reduced funding that the Christian school networks have received in recent years.
The 47 Christian schools around the country, teaching 33,000 pupils, have not yet returned to school despite the academic year beginning last week, because of the cuts, officials in the Christian community said.
The schools in question are referred to as “recognized but unofficial,” meaning they are supposed to receive 75% of the funding provided to full state schools, and are obligated to teach 75% of the teaching hours taught by state schools.
Christian schools achieve some of the best results of all schools in Israel, with 69% of Christian pupils matriculating from high school compared to 61% in the Jewish sector and 50% in the Muslim sector, according to the Central Bureau for Statistics.
“The substance of our protest is justice, democracy and equality,” said Bishop Bulos Marcuzzo, the auxiliary bishop and patriarchal vicar for Israel on Sunday. “We are not treated in the same way as similar schools. We deserve and have the right to be treated like all the other schools in Israel.
How can you speak about democracy when 33,000 children can’t go to school. How can you speak about freedom and human rights when the best and oldest schools in Israel cannot operate properly because the Education Ministry doesn’t give us what we deserve?”